PROCESSIONARY caterpillars- lethal to dogs if they come into contact with them- have been spotted in parts of Alicante province.

Sightings have been reported in the Bigastro area and also on Orihuela’s Sendero Cruz de la Meula.

The caterpillars grow in nests in pine trees and tend to appear in the spring, but warmer weather has been bringing them out earlier in recent years.

The long trail of back-to-back hairy caterpillars stretching along paths are often irresistible to household pets and young children.

The caterpillar eggs are laid inside floss nets on pine trees and issues normally start in late January until the end of March when they hatch and drop to the ground in search of food.

The caterpillars have tiny barbed hairs containing a protein called thaumetopoein.

If they feel attacked, they will shoot their tiny hairs like harpoons.

This can cause allergic reactions, foaming at the mouth and vomiting if young children come into contact with them.

The biggest risk is to dogs who may sniff or step on one, causing irritation to the paw which is then licked and the toxins transferred to the mouth.

They could suffer breathing difficulties, vomiting or start foaming at the mouth and should be taken urgently to the nearest veterinary clinic for an immediate cortisone and antibiotic injection.

Rapid intervention and sometimes amputation of the tongue or nose is the only course of action.

The toxins can cause suffocation and often result in death.

Badajoz Veterinary Clinic has advised dog owners to look out for warning signs.

“You may not be aware that they have been in contact with one of these dangerous caterpillars so  if they begin to show signs of hypersalivation, inflammation of the tongue or skin around the nose, aggravated scratching, nervousness or respiratory problems then seek a vet,” said the clinic.

They advised initial emergency action which could help alleviate problems,

“Wash the affected area with warm water and if you see there are caterpillar hairs on the area then remove them with tweezers.”

While the risk is high if in the countryside and walking through pine forests, the caterpillar can appear anywhere where pine trees grow including city parks, urbanisations and private gardens.

Municipal councils are responsible for spraying and removing the nests in urban parks but they often fail to eliminate the risk entirely, so people are always reminded to be vigilant.

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